Australia's national broadcaster takes police to court over raid

The ABC is asking for an injunction to prevent police from accessing the 'Afghan files', says raid was unconstitutional.

    The June 5 raid on the ABC's headquarters came a day after a News Corp journalist's home was raided [File: David Gray/EPA-EFE]
    The June 5 raid on the ABC's headquarters came a day after a News Corp journalist's home was raided [File: David Gray/EPA-EFE]

    Australia's national broadcaster has gone to court to challenge a police raid on its headquarters earlier this month and demand the return of files seized during the controversial operation.

    The Australian Broadcasting Cooperation (ABC) on Monday demanded a permanent injunction to prevent police from accessing the files, which concern a two-year-old investigative report on purported war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

    ABC's Managing Director David Anderson said the suit also challenged the constitutionality of the search warrant used by police to conduct the raid "on the basis that it hinders our implied freedom of political communication". 

    "The ABC is asking the Court for a declaration that the warrant was invalid on several technical grounds that underline the fundamental importance of investigative journalism and protection of confidential sources," ABC's Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement on Monday. 

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    "It is important that Australians be advised of this action and of the determination of the ABC to defend our journalists and the crucial work they do informing the public," the statement read.

    The Australian Federal Police raided the ABC's Sydney headquarters on June 5 as part of investigations into the leak of the so-called "Afghan files" by a government whistle-blower.

    The warrant used allowed the police to "add, copy, delete or alter" material found on the ABC's computers related to the Afghan story.

    The operation came a day after the Federal Police raided the Canberra home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst, seizing files and computer equipment over a year-old article on secret government plans to allow Australia's main foreign intelligence agency to spy on Australians domestically. 

    News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch-owned media giant, said on Monday that it was also preparing a legal challenge to the Federal Police search of Smethurst's home, according to The Australian.

    'National security'

    The twin raids sparked widespread condemnation by media inside Australia and abroad, who accused Australia's conservative government of undermining freedom of the press

    Critics were particularly concerned by the Federal Police's refusal to rule out handing down criminal charges against journalists who publish reports based on leaked classified information.

    The Federal Police have defended the raids, saying that the warrants were related to "national security information" that had the potential to pose a "grave danger to the national interest". 

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government has implemented a series of controversial law and order measures in recent months, insisted there was no political involvement in the police investigations of the ABC and News Corp.

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    He has, however, insisted on the need to crack down on the leak of classified information.

    Monday's legal challenge coincided with the launch of a joint campaign by the ABC, News Corp and Australia's other main commercial news company - Nine Entertainment - to demand the government pass laws to protect journalists and press freedom 

    Unlike most Western democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protection for freedom of speech.

    It also has some of the world's strictest defamation laws, with courts routinely issuing gag orders to prevent the reporting of details of many legal proceedings. 

    "Australia has a creeping culture of secrecy," Michael Miller, head of News Corp Australia said in an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.

    While acknowledging that journalists are not "above the law" and that threats to Australia's national security do exist, Miller said: "We do not believe that the laws aimed at terrorists should sweep journalists up in their net". 

    SOURCE: News agencies